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Omahan Creates Bar Code Art
Interactive portraits beep

by Brian Mastre

It's often said that in order to really see and understand something, it's important to step back and look at the big picture. One Omaha man spends months at a time doing just that.

How often do we hear something that is anonymous yet ubiquitous? We buy it. We wear it. We eat it, but we don't really see it.

"It's definitely a new twist, portraits for the 21st century." Scott Blake does. For more than a decade he's taken black and white and given it style. It started just before the Y2K computer scare.

"I was living in San Francisco and they said empty your ATM and fill up your bathtub. It was the end of the world. All because of zeros and ones."

Computers didn't crash and neither did his art. "What I'm saying is maybe the world isn't so great with all of these computers. Maybe we're less connected now that we have a million devices to connect with."

"Who wouldn't want to see their face in bar codes?" Andy Warhol is considered the first of the bar code artists. "This is one of my favorites."

"Andy Warhol had been painting Campbell's Soup cans and turned one on its side and he painted the instructions and the ingredients and the barcode. It's why I did the bar code, Andy Warhol and the Campbell's Soup cans."

Blake took the bar codes one step further. He made the portraits interactive. "It's sort of a celebration and a critique at the same time. Whenever you focus on something, you can't help but shine a light on it."

The bar codes are the actual ones we'd see at the store In a Bruce Lee piece, the bar codes represent the DVD codes to each of his 10 movies. Scan one and it plays one of his fight scenes. "I've had serious Bruce Lee fans come and just sit and scan every single one."

"There are over 30 portraits. Oprah Winfrey, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Newman. Warren Buffett is the only local one, but he's world renowned. I try to do faces almost anyone would recognize." His Buffett piece is the most recent and most complex.

"There was definitely a symphony of beeping going on. There are 80 bar codes." The Oracle of Omaha is pieced together using bar codes from all the companies Berkshire Hathaway has a stake in.

"Geico, I got the lizard." Any scanner will work with his portraits.

"The bar code on the can of Coke has been the same since the day they put bar codes on a can of Coke. They have not changed that six-digit number." While often times art is hands off, Blake encourages people to use his creations.

"As soon as people hear it beep, they know it's bar codes. Many are afraid to touch it. Children are the first ones to use it. They run and grab a scanner and parents are like, no, no and I'm always like, no please."

"Burlington Northern." If this gets damaged, no worries. "Bar codes are ugly and meant to be ignored. They're very utilitarian. I figured in 100 years when I'm long gone, my bar codes will still stand."

Blake isn't sure about his next subject, but he understands the possibilities are endless. "There's always a bar code within reach. There's probably one on your body right now. They really are everywhere."

Blake gives away digital prints of his work on his Web site,

His work is recognized in the latest edition of Ripley's Believe It Or Not book with a two-page spread. Each piece Blake creates takes up to six months to finish. His next project may involve British influences such as the Queen, Pricess Diana and the Beatles.

Posted on WOWT Website, September 27, 2009
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